The title is a favorite saying of a friend’s aikido teacher. With all its talk of calm non-resistance and entrusting oneself to the natural flow of things and enveloping adversaries with love and so on, Aikido is one of those martial arts that can appeal to the pacifist. Its name has even been translated as “the way of unifying with life energy”. If you question the consistency of all this with the fundamental interest in splatting an attacker against the ground, you now know the teacher’s response.

Relevance to beekeeping? We were reminded of this saying by this article from the ever amusing Atlas Obscura describing the cooperation of human and bird to obtain honey, the Hadza and the honeyguide. The Hadza are able with a particular tune and a bit of luck to summon a honeyguide to lead them to a bee tree. The humans then break the tree open to get at the combs and obtain honey for themselves, whereupon we, innocent viewers of many a nature documentary, expect the bird to receive its share of sweet honey and nutritious brood in a beautiful display of harmonious mutualism, as long as we ignore the death, destruction, and robbery visited upon the unfortunate bees.

No such luck. Although other people with similar honeyguide partnership do feel an obligation to give the bird a fair share as finder’s fee, the Hadza burn, bury, or otherwise destroy most of the comb they do not take for their own use. It strikes the average westerner as mean-spirited. So offensive does this ingratitude seem that when Brian Wood, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at Yale, who had firsthand observed and interviewed the Hadza, published his observations he was greeted with outraged disbelief. The difference is that while everyone enjoys honey as a treat the Hadza diet obtains a significant part of its calories from honey. If the bird were left to eat its fill then it would be disinclined to respond if summoned soon after. It is in the best interests of the Hadza to keep the honeyguide hungry. And so another romantic view of nature is demolished by hard economics.

Advertisements